Thursday, October 30, 2008


I found myself a bit nervous as I walked into Azafran on my first day of work. I was quickly put to ease by the Executive Chef Pablo Ranea (not pictured with staff below) and everyone else that was working in the kitchen - as well the rest of the restaurant's employees. This kitchen was quite different from the ones I had been working in out at the bodegas. It was much more sophisticated and spacious. It felt very organized and efficient and I jumped right in and began prepping the amuse-bouché for that day's service. This appetizer consisted of a little seared baby mushroom, stuffed with brie, roasted slightly then garnished with blueberry and a blueberry/wine reduction.
I really enjoyed preparing the complete dish as well as plating it.

I really appreciated that even though Chef Pablo kept me busy with various things to prep he was constantly aware of me in the kitchen and always called me over to the different stations to show me plating’s or techniques or some aspect of how they did things here. It was really a learning experience for me. I wished I could have worked there longer. I realized the importance of how valuable working under one chef for a period of time could be. I just had a taste of what I could have learned.
Pictured above is an assortment of cured meats and cheese that are served as a first course. A very typical appetizer, served of course with an assortments of freshly baked breads.
A another "entrada" or first course is a trio of empanadas. Each one has a different filling and is paired with an appropriate wine.
The sweetbread filled empanada is served with a torrentes. The chorizo - with a malbec, and the blood sausage is paired with a tempranillo.
Pablo brought me the chorizo one with a little glass of malbec to taste. It was delicious.
I kept pretty busy so did not get a chance to capture pictures of all the various entree’s, but I know I will return here for dinner with Virginia tour where I plan to get a pictorial of our dinner and give details of all the dishes on the menu.
Before I finished my first day, Pablo had me make a big batch of the Parmesan pudding I had made for my final. He said he liked the idea of it for the next night's amuse-bouche. I was a little nervous getting the conversions right with my recipe. I left before it was finished cooking so I had to worry all night about if it was going to turn out.
I was happy to find out the next morning that it set just fine. Pablo really liked it and so I went to work at cutting out little rounds of the pudding and prepping them for that night’s service. I roasted some cherry tomatoes and placed one on top of each little pudding. Pablo was going to finish them off with a little balsamic reduction. I felt pretty honored to be making my recipe. I was just sorry that I would not be there in the evening to see the finished product.
I also made the pasta dough (made with Swiss chard) and formed the sorrentinos that are like a round ravioli pillow filled with potato.
My days went quickly here at Azafran. Like I said, I could have stayed here for months.
With my hours completed, I was ready to take a break and go on some day trips to see more of the area before I had to head back to BA and meet Virginia. I was ready to be a lady of leisure for a few days.
Buenas Noches

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Triathlons & Dance Shows

I woke up on on Saturday morning and stumbled out of my room to find the court - yard at La Escondida had been taken over by bikes. And not just bikes - Tri-bikes. I did a double take since I am a dabbler in Triathlons. I immediately went back into my room, changed into my running clothes and donned my Ironman cap that I have coveted since crossing the finish line in Idaho two summers ago. I definitely got some attention and made instant connections. It turns out that there was a half Ironman the following day here in Mendoza. Some of the athletes that were competing were staying at this B & B. It was fun getting to know them and of course I had to go out on Sunday and cheer them on. The two women above and right were competing in their first half-Iron distance and were quite nervous. I could so relate to what they were going through.

I am happy to report that I was not tempted in the least to join in the activities. I know when I return that I will have to put my empanadas and Malbec aside and resume training. My daughter and I signed up for Iron Austria next summer right before I left. It was a long shot that we were going to get in because the race was sold out but......It looks like it is a go.
I wonder how many empanadas my bento box will hold...

That night I attended a dance performance that two of the servers from Ruca Malen were in. Florencia and Macarena, both of whom I had worked with for the past month, have been working hard getting ready for this show and I felt fortunate to be able to go and see them. I wasn't sure what to expect and was blown away the talent these two young ladies had. Watching them onstage brought back so many memories of my own daughters' dance shows. They both have hopes to come to the US and take dance classes. They are determined and hard working. I have a feeling I will be seeing them again one day - hopefully in the US.
Buenas Noches

Friday, October 24, 2008

Milanese with the Montero Family

I awoke with a new energy. Three days off followed by two days working at Azafran then working days here in Mendoza are over! It's hard to believe that I have been here for almost two months.
Today I was invited to have lunch with Dolores's (Tasting Mendoza) family. She has been talking about her Mother's famous Steak Milanese ever since I first arrived. Her Mom hosts a family lunch every Friday and today finally (my first Friday off) I am lucky enough to be a part of this weekly family gathering. Pictured above (from left to right) is myself, Loli, Canty, Matias, Dolores, Jose and Lucas.
I didn't realize how much I missed my family until I was with one.
Especially this one. They reminded me so much of my own family who all thoroughly enjoying getting together over a meal. My Mom also cooks a dinner once a week for whoever happens to be around.

Amidst the family banter, the teasing, (yes, the grown kids tease their mothers here also!)the serious talk of politics and world events, and of course, little Milo, who was Dolores's nephew running around demanding attention from all - I felt right at home. Milo was too busy to be in the group photo as well as his Mom, Fabi who was just as busy trying to keep up with him!

The setting was beautiful. Dolores's parents, Canty and Loli's lovely home is on the second hole of a golfcourse. (Both are avid golfers) Our outdoor lunch was picture perfect.The food was delicious. The salads were fresh, beautiful and tasted of summer. The steak Milanese lived up to the rave reviews that Dolores has been given it, (actually I hear her mom has become quite famous here in Mendoza for this dish), the potato puree delicious and the flan that Loli served for dessert was out of this world.

A perfect day with a wonderful family.
I thank you Dolores for including me in your family lunch and thank you Loli and Cany for the wonderful hospitality.
If I lived permanently in Mendoza, this is where I would want to be on Fridays for lunch!
Buenas noches.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back to Melipal.

Needless to say, I slept in the next day. I finally decided to get up around eleven. I went for a run, showered, then decided to treat myself to lunch at my favorite restaurant in Mendoza. Azafran is its name. It is small and quaint, a wonderful menu, no wine list but a beautiful walk in cellar that you are invited into to choose the wine for your meal. I sat outside and savored a sampling of cheeses, a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc and a Cesaer type salad with baby goat. I talked to my server about my stay here in Mendoza and at the end of my lunch the executive chef came out to say hello and introduce himself to me. His name is Pablo Ranea and after talking for a little while he asked if I would like to come and work with him while I was here in Mendoza.
I almost ran home and got my knives right then!
I told him I would need to talk to Lucas and Guillermo and if they were good with me finishing my hours at Azafran - I would love to.
I skipped the whole way home.

The next morning I was back at Melipal (pictured above) where I was to finish up my remaining hours. I was scheduled to work there Thursday, have three days off then work the remaning week at Melipal. There were only a few lunches that day but we had plenty to prep for seeing how there was a full dining room on Friday. I was happy to be back at Melipal. Such a relaxed atmosphere. I worked with Ferdinand who is so kind and appreciative of my help. I am convinced that Ferdinand makes the best bread of anyone I have met so far. He has a knack of getting the texture just right. I was able to fully experience the menu and the new dessert.The day was slow paced and smooth and as we were finishing up the days service Guillermo came by. I was able to ask him about Azafran and he said that would be fine. They would miss me but working at Azafran would be a good experience for me.
So ends my days at the bodegas.
Buenas noches.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Party at Belasco de Baquedano

On Tuesday, the day of the big event, we began work around 10:00 in the morning. There were about six of us that worked together all day. It was a beautiful day and the view was gorgeous from our outdoor kitchen.
We began by peeling all the potatoes that were to be served with the main course. The peeler that was in my knife kit had broken my first week at Ruca so I had gone to a local kitchen store and picked up a new one. I debated the purchase because it was a bit pricey (around 50 pesos) but I went ahead and bought it anyway. As I dove in and began peeling potatoes for 260 people I kept saying to myself that this was the best fifty pesos I have spent so far! Another gal that was helping with this task did not have a peeler and was using a knife that was not in the greatest shape. I felt bad for her and I knew her hands were starting to hurt. All I could do was lend her one of my knives. We made it through the two bags that seemed never ending and moved on to more prep. We cooked and mashed the potatoes and after seasoning them with (of course butter and cream) and fresh herbs we then formed them into rounds with a ring mold and wrappped a strip of pastry that we had rolled and cut out earlier around the circumference. We carried them down the two flights of stairs to be stored and reheated later on. Pictured on the right is the "crew" taking a little dinner break. I knew I was in for a long night ahead.
The reception part of this event was to begin around 6:30. We would assemble everything and serve on this top level where the restaurant is and where there is also a fairly large outdoor patio.
Chef Alejan- dro arrived (pictured left and below) as we began to bake the empana- das and assemble the Tapa's. He is one of Lucas chef's that I had not worked with yet. I am sorry to not have had the opportunity to. He was very personable (and cute) and I could tell was quite talented. He arrived at zero hour and knew just what to do to keep everything running smoothly. I loved the way that all the appetizers were assembled on one big table then an assortment was placed on the wooden planks, garnished then served. It was quite an assembly line. After the tapa's came the empana- das - all shapes and flavors. Sergio was the official empanada baker.

The reception was a whirlwind of empanadas and tapas. There was so much food it was hard to believe that these guests were to also have a full meal .

The reception ended and the guests went down to the first flour where one of the wine rooms was set up for the banquet. We abandoned our outdoor kitchen and all went down to the first floor to a make shift tented kitchen to begin to prepare for serving dinner.
I took this one shot of the first course, which was a lentil salad topped with a little jamon cruda and parsely, dressed with a lemon vinagairette and garnisehd with a swirling of a malbec glace.
I set my camera down and never had the chance to pick it back up and take anymore pictures. That's how crazy it got.
The rest of the menu you will have to imagine. The main course was fillet, the potatoes with a little sauce of herbs and cream and pimienton. A Lucas main course.
The dessert was the chocolate mousse Matias I prepped previously and was plated with a swiring of carmel and orange crème anglaise. I think there was ice cream and nuts on the plate also but I lost track. I was so focused on not dropping this huge bowl of crème anglaise as I placed some on each (260 - to be exact) plate. There were plates and crates everywhere.
It really got crazy when it thunderstormed. We had to quickly move all the tables under the eaves so we could finish plating the desserts.
Then there was the coffee and liqueurs on ice that each table was served.
Then clean up.
I fell exhausted into bed somewhere around 2:30 am. I barely remember the drive home.
While I loved this day and this experience, I learned one thing.
I don't want to work banquets on a regular basis. I'm too old to work 15 hour days!

Buenas noches.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good-bye Ruca Malen

It is really staring to look more and more
like spring everyday. Especially in the
vineyards where the vines no longer look
like dormant sticks and are coming to back to life.

In this past week I have gone back and forth between Melipal, Ruca and Belasco. There has been a bit of juggling going on as preparations begin for events at the Belasco de Baquedano Winery. There will be a small dinner on Monday for seventy people then a larger reception with dinner following for two-hundred and sixty people on Tuesday.
I worked one day at Melipal then at Balasco doing some pre-prep work for the upcoming banquet. Martias and I spent most of the day getting the molds ready for the desserts, making the chocolate mousse and preparing an orange creme anglaise. We worked outside, as the kitchen was putting out the lunches for that day and was too small for the task of making mousse for two-hundred and fifty.
I have really enjoyed getting to know Martias. I know he loathes it, but everyone calls him by the nickname "ratatouille" because he looks like the boy from the movie. I have to admit that he does. I call him by his real name though. He is fresh out of school, very nice, one of my fellow workers who tries to speak English to me, and a very hard worker. I have come to really appreciate him.
Then it was back to Ruca for the weekend. It was busy as usual. Here is myself and a new picture of Pablo (he didn't like the last one I posted of him making bread) and Soledad after an exhausting day!

These were my last few days in this kitchen. I will miss everyone. Goodbye onion rolls and calabazas croquettes, risotto, fillet with sweet potatoes and eggplant ratatouille. And last but not least, goodbye dolce de leche mousse.
Good-bye Ruca Malen.
It has been an experience.
Buenas noches.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Living in Mendoza

Here in Mendoza, the morning ritual is to clean your front sidewalk. Each house has it's own unique tile or slate design on their front walkway and the people here are very particular about it's upkeep. I cautiously walk to the plaza each morning being extremely careful not to slip on the wet tiles. There is no such thing as liability here. I have to be on my toes so I won't be on my back!
Most mornings are a toss up between walking in the street and risking getting hit by a car, or taking my chances with the wet tiles. Life's a gamble.

I'm doing better than mi amiga, however.
I just heard from my dear friend Virginia, (Taylor-Made Tours) who I will be meeting in Buenos Aires soon, and it seems she took a little spill and broke her foot! Now the pressure is really on . We certainly cannot have both of us hobbling around Argentina!

Virginia, no more stilettos while cooking en la cocina!!

This morning when I reached the plaza, it was filled with a camera crew, school children waiting to do something, and a band. I'm not sure what the occasion was but it seemed like a "Good Morning Argentina" type show that was about to be broadcasted from the Plaza de Indenpendencia .

My ride arrived before the camera started rolling so I never did learn what the hubub was about.

When I was dropped off at the end of the day - all was back to normal.

The fountain still runs pink and I was lucky enough to catch this rainbow reflecting through the spray as I walked back home from work.

Buenas noches.